LGBTQ+ Icons in Music

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As it is LGBT History Month this February, we have compiled a list of LGBTQ+ musical icons who continue to challenge the straight binary narrative of the music industry today.

Brandi Carlile

With the Annual 2019 Grammys coming up this weekend, LGBT artist, in particular queer women, are crushing the Grammy game. Brandi Carlile is a multi-talented American folk-rock and singer-songwriter and has released six studio albums to date. Born in 1981 Washington USA, she started playing guitar and writing songs from the age of 15. At 16 she began performing as a backup singer for a Elvis impersonator, before pursuing her own singing career performing at local clubs in Seattle, with her twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth. After self-releasing her first album, she was spotted by talent scout Dave Matthews after he saw her band perform at a festival in 2003. The next year she was signed to Columbia Records and in 2005 released her self-titled album ‘Brandi Carlile’. Her career has skyrocketed since then, with her breakthrough song ‘The Story’ in 2007, three singles featured on Greys Anatomy, touring with the likes of Maroon 5, One Republic and collaborating with the legend that is Elton John. She is now up for an incredible six Grammy nominations including song of the year, record of the year and album of the year, making her the female artist with the most nominations this year!

Sadie Fox

Rob Halford

Legendary Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford was the first heavy metal singer to openly come out as gay when he confirmed his homosexuality in the late 90s, subsequently quipping “I’ve become the stately homo of heavy metal”. Whilst early Metal influences such as Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer and Deep Purple never saw themselves as a ‘Heavy Metal band’, Judas Priest would change all of this by fully identifying as such, with Halford helping define the band’s sound and look throughout the 70s and 80s with his classic operatic screaming, leather uniform and tongue-in-cheek humour. Halford is considered one of Heavy Metal’s greatest vocalists of one of the genre’s most important bands, and despite the Heavy Metal being seen as a very macho, male environment in the media, Halford’s sexuality has been widely accepted, he is still the Metal God.

Matthew Williams

LE1F

Best known for his ferociously fierce breakout hit ‘Wut’ in 2012, New York based rapped ‘Le1f’ (Khalif Diouf) combines rapid-fire raps with trap-infused, high energy beats. His discography is as versatile as he is, with his first mixtape ‘Dark York’ being punchy and provocative, with the track ‘lavandin’, laden with scent imagery, a personal favourite of mine (‘My pheromone makes a dude wanna bone/ Give him a whiff, he won’t leave me alone’). His 2015 album ‘Riot Boi’ delves into more experimental territory, teaming up with the transgender PC music visionary, SOPHIE, on tracks such as ‘Koi’, whose mind-bending music video features twerking dancers surrounded by seapunk graphics.

George Dunleavy

SOPHIE

Hailing from Scotland, the transgender DJ, producer and artist has been making waves in the electronic music scene since 2012 when she caught the music world’ attention with ‘Bipp’. Regarded as one of the founders of the PC music movement (in which glitchy sounds are layered over high-pitched electronic beats), her 2018 album ‘Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides’ is tipped to win ‘Best Dance/Electronic Album’ at the Grammy’s in February. The album deals with gender, beauty and the self. Listen to the Madonna-inspired ‘Immaterial’ and wonder about existentialism, and don’t miss the latex-pop production ‘Ponyboy’, which rightfully deserves to be played in a Berghain dark room at 4am.  

George Dunleavy

Tash Sultana

Tash Sultana, the non-binary multi-instrumentalist from Melbourne, first picked up a guitar at the age of three. Twenty years, almost as many mastered instruments, and an album later and it’s hard not to see how this energetic new live artist has started turning heads. From humble beginnings, Sultana began catching attention when a performance of their song ‘Jungle’ gained them 10,000 followers overnight. Since then they’ve sold out the O2 Academy in Brixton multiple times and are returning to the UK to play Alexandra Palace for the second time in June.

But Sultana hasn’t always been ready to take the world by storm; in a Ted Talk to the University of Melbourne they describe falling into a drug induced psychosis at the age of 17. Being unable to discern between what was and wasn’t real, Sultana was unable to function on a day to day basis. However, through their music Sultana was able to work through their psychosis and they recount how they “taught myself through music therapy that I could develop clarity with my passion, and I literally played and played and played the pain away until I could think clearly again.”

That ‘passion’ Sultana mentioned in Melbourne is evident throughout her music. Sweeping guitar riffs give way to drum beats looped over trumpet solos as Sultana blends genres and instruments seamlessly. But where they really shine is in front of an audience. Sultana’s live sets see them bring their music to life, playing with the structures and instruments used in their songs to bring the crowd something unique each time. Many of the live performances they’ve recorded see them mixing saxophones and 12 stringed instruments into their songs, and when the pan pipes come out Sultana shows off by beatboxing whilst playing them.

Tash Sultana’s preference for live music over music recorded in a studio is well documented; but one can’t help but imagine that this talented and passionate artist is talking about themselves instead of their music when they said to Billboard “It needs to be born somewhere and that’s the stage.”

Matthew Jeffery

Header Image Credit: LE1F Screengrab from ‘Wut’